Allison Russell won both artist of the year and album of the year at the 2022 International Folk Music Awards, which were presented Wednesday (May 18), the opening night of the 34th annual Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Mo.
Russell took album of the year for her first solo album, Outside Child, which has been an awards magnet in recent months. Last November, it was nominated for a Grammy for best Americana album. On Saturday, it won a Juno Award in Russell’s native Canada for contemporary roots album of the year. On Monday, it became an Americana Honors & Awards nominee for album of the year.
“I cannot tell you how much this means to me coming from this community in particular,” Russell said. “… It was at Folk Alliance [International Conference in 2001] where I first met JT [Nero] and so many of the people who would become a part of my chosen family… This is a beautiful community. It’s growing and I’m very proud of the fact that we understand collectively and truly believe that tolerance is not enough. Tolerance is for mosquitos. We tolerate mosquitos. Humans require love… This is like a family reunion. We know and understand, we have the conviction that art and music is an essential service and a sacrament. It saves lives. It saved my life. And it reduces harm in the world. It bridges the gulfs between. It turns fear into love. It’s magic.”
Crys Matthews’ “Changemakers” garnered song of the year honors. Matthews performed on the show, as did fellow nominees John Smith and Diana Jones. The show opened with a song by gospel artist Isaac Cates & Ordained.
Accordionist Flaco Jiménez, the late songwriter and interpreter Nanci Griffith, and Denver-based folk music center Swallow Hill Music were this year’s recipients of the Elaine Weissman lifetime achievement awards. The awards are presented each year to honor the cultural impact of legendary folk music figures.
Jason Mraz, known for his attention to conservation, human rights and LGBTQIA+ issues, received The People’s Voice Award, which is presented to an individual who “unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers.” Past recipients include Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ani DiFranco and Bruce Cockburn.
On receiving the award, Mraz said, “I was a little shy at first, thinking I’m too young for this award, that I haven’t done or said enough. Then I realized those thoughts and feelings never go away, that nagging thought that I haven’t done enough. But it’s that nagging thought that’s an indication that we still have energy to give and want to and will.”
Mali Obomsawin, a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artist, member of the band Lula Wiles and journalist, received the Rising Tide Award. The award was launched in 2021 to celebrate a new generation (under age 30) artist who inspires others by embodying the values and ideals of the folk community.
The 2022 recipients of the Spirit of Folk Awards included musician, educator and documentary producer Eugene Rodriguez of Los Cenzontles; composer, producer, performing artist and Louisiana Red Hot Records vice president and head of A&R Lilli Lewis; NPR Tiny Desk contest winner, musician and disability rights activist Gaelynn Lea; Canadian Live Music Association president & CEO Erin Benjamin; Bolivian-American multi-instrumentalist, composer and instrument maker Amado Espinoza; and Sound Diplomacy founder Shain Shapiro. These awards are presented to honor people and organizations actively involved in the promotion and preservation of folk music.
Colorado-based Planet Bluegrass received the Clearwater Award, which is presented to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.
Angela Page and Dr. Jonathan Øverby were inducted into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame, which was established to recognize radio DJs who have made outstanding contributions to the preservation, promotion and presentation of folk music. Page has hosted Folk Plus since the early 1990s on hydro-powered WJFF 90.5 FM Radio Catskill in Jeffersonville, N.Y. Dr. Øverby is a DJ and Wisconsin Public Radio host and a noted ethnomusicologist and scholar.
Folk Alliance International was founded in 1989. Its more than 3,000 members constitute a worldwide community of artists, agents, managers, labels, publicists, arts administrators, venues, festivals and concert series presenters.
Folk Alliance International produces the world’s largest conference for the folk music industry, the Folk Alliance International Conference; the International Folk Music Awards; an artist-in-residence program; the Folk ExChange market development program; the Ethno USA gathering (on behalf of JM International); community outreach; and a Finest Folk concert series.
Folk Alliance International defines folk broadly as “the music of the people” (reflective of any community they are from), and programs a diverse array of sub genres including Appalachian, Americana, blues, bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, global roots, hip-hop, old-time, singer-songwriter, spoken word, traditional, zydeco, and various fusions.
Executive director Aengus Finnan, who is stepping down next month after eight years, said, “If folk music is the music of the people and we are to examine that and we are to be a Folk Alliance International, that means that we are to be aligned internationally and look at the big picture and the many sounds and the many voices and the many people.” He later said, “It has been the personal and professional honor of my life to serve this community and this organization.”
Here are the nominees and winners:
Artist of the year
The Longest Johns
WINNER: Allison Russell
John Francis Flynn
Album of the year
They’re Calling Me Home, Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi
Wary + Strange, Amythyst Kiah
Un Canto por México, Vol. 2, Natalia Lafourcade
WINNER: Outside Child, Allison Russell
The Fray, John Smith
Song of the year
“On Solid Ground,” Reggie Harris
“Painted Blue,” Sarah Jarosz
“We Believe You,” Diana Jones
“Call Me A Fool,” Valerie June
WINNER: “Changemakers,” Crys Matthews